Evol Ecol Res 13: 401-413 (2011)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

Maternal effects and epidemiological traits in a planktonic host–parasite system

Nora H. Prior1,4, Cherise N. Washington2, Jessica M. Housley2, Spencer R. Hall3, Meghan A. Duffy2 and Carla E. Cáceres1

1School of Integrative Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois, USA, 2School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 3Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA and 4Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Correspondence: N.H. Prior, Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada.
e-mail: nhprior@zoology.ubc.ca


Questions: Do maternal effects influence offspring susceptibility to parasites? Specifically: (1) Does maternal age influence offspring disease resistance? (2) Does maternal disease exposure alter resistance of offspring to disease? (3) Does a mother’s age (controlling for age at infection) and/or exposure to parasites alter epidemiologically important life-history traits (e.g. time until death, fecundity) in offspring that are either exposed or not exposed to parasites?

Organisms: The planktonic grazer Daphnia dentifera, and its virulent fungal parasite Metschnikowia bicuspidata.

Methods: Laboratory-based infection assays and life tables.

Results: A mother’s age did not influence her daughter’s ability to resist infection. Furthermore, daughters raised from infected mothers showed no difference in parasite resistance relative to mothers that were not exposed to parasite infection. However, some maternal characteristics did affect epidemiologically relevant life-history traits. In one assay, increasing maternal age increased lifespan of the infected offspring. Individuals born to infected mothers had reduced fecundity. Fecundity influences population dynamics, and body size influences both susceptibility to disease and the parasite’s fitness (i.e. yields of spores from infected hosts).

Conclusions: Despite the differences found in some life-history traits, overall our results reveal that maternal effects and immunological priming are likely not key drivers of disease dynamics in this system. As a result, it would appear that inclusion of trans-generational effects in epidemiological models is unlikely to improve our ability to describe and predict population dynamics in this system.

Keywords: Daphnia–Metschnikowia system, host–parasite, immunological priming, maternal effects, trans-generational effects.

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